Fun Etymology Tuesday – Guinea pig

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Happy new year!

Time moves inexorably forwards for all of us, and though it might seem that seven days be a long time, they’re but one flap of a beetle’s wings in the vast incomprehensible hugeness of time.
And so, here we are again with another Tuesday and yet another Fun Etymology!
This week’s word (or better, compound) is “guinea pig”!

Guinea pigs are medium-sized rodents native of the Andes in South America. They’re unique amongst rodents in being herbivores (whereas most other rodents are omnivores), and in having in common with humans the inability to create their own vitamin C. They’re also some of the cuddliest and cutest critters out there.
Reading this description, a couple of things probably occurred to you: guinea pigs are not pigs, and they don’t come from Guinea. Why the deuce (to borrow a very Victorian expression) are they called guinea pigs then?

The answer is: nobody knows for sure! Many hypotheses have been proposed, but none is entirely satisfactory. Some think they’re called that because they arrived in England on ships which came from South America via Guinea, so-called Guinea-men; others think it’s because they resemble the young of the breed of pig known as Guinea hog (they don’t); others still think it’s because of English people mishearing “Guyana” as “Guinea” (problem is they don’t come from Guyana either, though it’s a better approximation than Guinea, that’s for sure).
As for “pig”, it’s probably because of the squealing noises they make and the fact that they tend to become very fat.

Their original name in Quechua, the language once spoken in the Inca empire, is “quwi” (often spelled “cuy”). Perhaps we should just start calling them that.

To conclude this post, we’ll leave you with a photo of admin Riccardo’s own two little furry monsters.

See you around!

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